Photo Information

Ken Beutel reads to children at a center in Bo, Sierra Leone, where he and his wife Deb volunteer their time and professional skills to help children and families. Ken, deputy program manager for Information Systems and Infrastructure at MCSC, used his information technology expertise to establish a classroom and provide online learning capabilities for the children in Bo. (Courtesy photo)

Photo by Courtesy Photo

MCSC couple dedicates time, talents to help children in Sierra Leone

22 Dec 2015 | Donielle Scherff, MCSC Office of Public Affairs and Communication Marine Corps Systems Command

Marines answer the call to service all over the world. Civilian Marines Ken and Deb Beutel, both employees of Marine Corps Systems Command, are doing the same; giving their time and talent to serve children living in danger and poverty in Sierra Leone.

Ken is the deputy program manager for Information Systems and Infrastructure at MCSC and the program manager for Garrison Information Technology. He is also a missioner (short for missionary) with a charity organization through his church that provides services to children through a children’s center and hospital in Bo, Sierra Leone’s second largest city.

A missioner since 2010, Ken was named the organization’s information technology chair, a voluntary position, after responding to a critical infrastructure need at the height of last year’s Ebola crisis.

“When the crisis hit, everything was closing—including the schools—so we had to make a decision,” he said. “We brought in supplies, and from August 2014 to March 2015, we closed the gates to the charity’s compound to keep the children and staff safe from infection.”

In order to keep children at the facility safe from the deadly virus, Ken helped establish a classroom with laptops and satellite communication, providing online learning capabilities for the children while they waited until they could return to school in the community. Also a missioner, Deb is the deputy product manager for Force Protection Systems in MCSC’s Marine Air Ground Task Force Command, Control and Communications. She began taking turns with Ken traveling to Sierra Leone to help the children there.

“After my husband Ken had gone on two back-to-back trips, he exhibited such joy and satisfaction from participating in those mission trips that I decided I needed to see what it was all about,” Deb said.

On her trips Deb worked on projects including creating a library for the children at the center, providing medical outreach in nearby villages and delivering birthing kits to the hospital located on the charity’s compound. Their combined efforts have allowed the couple to make a greater impact than they would have individually.

“It is perfect because we have different skills and interests,” said Ken. “While I work to provide IT support, Deb is a natural nurturer and gets involved in education.”

For the past 5 years, the Beutels have made these trips despite personal risk. They travel difficult roads to a dangerous part of the world and face an acute risk of illness or disease, including Ebola, typhoid and river blindness. At the same time the children’s center classroom infrastructure was being set up, the hospital faced the Ebola crisis head on, Ken said. An advanced-stage Ebola patient showed up for care, infecting two nurses before succumbing to his illness. The nurses survived.

Since his most recent trip in October, Ken has reported his temperature to the Virginia Department of Health twice daily to ensure he has not been infected. So why does he risk it?

“It feels better than just sending money and letting someone else go,” he said. “On every trip we end up giving them something they don’t have, and we always come back having been given something we never expected to get.”

The Beutels’ courage and commitment are making an impact. The organization serves 39 children on site and reaches 300 more in surrounding communities with medical and educational outreach programs.

The couple plans to continue their missionary work long after retiring from government service.

“When we retire we hope to be able to go for longer durations of two to three months at a time, as well as to continue our support and fundraising for some of our other favorite non-profits,” Deb said.

Marine Corps Systems Command